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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Ravens, Lilies, and Sparrows

raven, lily, and sparrow

by Dennis Pollock

Jesus introduced an amazing new idea to Israel and the world – He constantly referred to our Creator as the Heavenly Father. Although there are a few references to God as Father in the Old Testament, the Jews had never really latched onto this concept. But Jesus continually and emphatically spoke in these terms. Thus when He taught on prayer, He instructed us to begin with God’s title and His address: “Our Father who art in heaven…” He could have, with some degree of accuracy, addressed God as a Heavenly General, but how much less inspiring and comforting it would be if Christians everywhere began their prayers with “our General who art in heaven.”

One of the major themes of Jesus’ teachings about our cosmic Father is that He can be completely trusted to care for His children. This must have been a big deal to Jesus, as He emphasized this again and again; using various illustrations to stress the reality of God’s loving provision. Jesus was evidently a keen student of nature, and therefore used three examples from God’s animal and plant kingdoms to drive home one single point – God can be trusted to meet our physical needs.

Ravens

Ravens (crows) are not pretty birds, and people used to go out and shoot them just for sport. But Jesus used them to teach a wonderful lesson about the giving nature of the Father. In the gospel of Luke He instructed His disciples that they were not to worry about their needs for food or clothing. He begins his admonition with the words, “Do not worry.” This is one of Jesus’ favorite refrains (along with its corollary: “Do not fear”). We might wonder why it is that God cares whether we worry or not. And yet clearly God does care.

One of the reasons is obvious, if we understand the character of God. He loves us and desires our happiness. Worriers are not happy people. Their fears and pessimism keep them from enjoying and appreciating the goodness of God. Secondly, worry is a negative reflection upon our Heavenly Father. Gloomy, nervous Christians are essentially declaring they do not trust the goodness of their Father. He may well let them down and allow them to fall into ruin and collapse. And thirdly, being preoccupied with our physical needs through constant worry and fretting reduces our ability to focus upon spiritual things. Jesus tells us “life is more than food” and “the body is more than clothing.”

Having insisted that we refrain from worry, Jesus then gives us a good reason for a positive outlook. He calls attention to the ravens:

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (Luke 12:24)

Ravens get their food in a manner far different from humans. We plant seeds and harvest crops. We use expensive machinery like tractors and combines. We gather the food into great storehouses, process it in complex factories, and ship it to stores all over the nation, neatly packaged and appropriately priced. The ravens do none of this. None of us has ever seen a crow driving a tractor or planting a row of seeds. We do not find them in line at the supermarkets with their shopping carts piled high with bird feed. And yet without any agriculture or methodical manner of food gathering, crows do very well indeed. There are never any shortages of them and when you see them they always look fat and prosperous.

We could go into detail about the way they scavenge, their omnivorous appetites, and so on, but Jesus simplifies the matter with these few words: “God feeds them.” Yes, they have something to do with the process by the ingenious way they search out their food, but in the end we are told that they are eating and living by the generous hand of the Heavenly Father. After giving us this simple lesson in the feeding of the ravens, Jesus says to us: “Of how much more value are you than the birds?”

What an amazing and comforting statement! We have value in the eyes of this Father in heaven, this Source of all provision for His creation. We are in fact far more valuable than birds, which God makes sure have the food they need. It would seem, according to Jesus, that willingness to supply needs is built into the very nature of God. He provides for even the animals He has made; He will certainly do so for His special creation, those beings made in His own image, the humans. One might almost say that the supplying of physical needs is an aspect of God’s job description. No sane earthly father would allow his child to starve or go without clothes and neither will our “Father who art in heaven.”

Lilies

In this same passage, after His discussion of ravens, Jesus gives us another illustration:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? (Luke 12:27-28)

The subject has not changed; Jesus is using another example to make the same basic point about the nature of our Heavenly Father. In this case we are looking at flowers. How do flowers grow? They grow quietly without any effort. If you have ever walked past a flower bed as the flowers are in the process of growing and reaching maturity, you will hear no grunts or groans. There is no agonizing among the lilies or straining by the daisies. Without any labor or strain flowers are growing and being clothed with a beauty that excels any clothing we have ever worn.

Flower Garden

Jesus points out how temporary is the beauty of the flowers, “which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.” Their beauty and majesty may last for a few weeks or at best a couple of months, and then they wither and die. Yet despite their temporary existence, there is a creative and generous Father in heaven who makes sure they are clothed very well indeed for their short duration on earth. Having established God’s care for the flowers, Jesus goes on to insist, “How much more will He clothe you…?”

If we were ever to take these words seriously it would nearly eliminate fear and worry. If only there really was a Father up in heaven that cared so much for us! If only He really did concern Himself with even our smallest needs! Jesus has the audacity to insist: “There really is!”

Jesus goes on to say: “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” Since we have such a Father in heaven it is not necessary for us to give undue attention to the attaining of physical needs. We can make God’s kingdom our focus, knowing that as we make His priorities our priorities, He will make sure we have all we need in this life.

Here is the error of those preachers and Christians who constantly focus on “prosperity.” To preach sermon after sermon on God’s desire to prosper us (or to attend seminar after seminar) is to concentrate on that which God specifically commands us not to focus on. The providing of physical needs is to be an “add-on.” We are commanded to seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all the material needs will be added to us (we may not be rich but we will have what we need). Physical blessings are supposed to be an afterthought for the Christian; the advancement of the kingdom of God is to be our passion.

Sparrows

A third example Jesus gives to reinforce the knowledge of the Father’s care involves the lowly sparrow. In this case the point is not that the Father provides for the sparrow, but rather that the Father is totally involved in the life of this small, insignificant (in our eyes) bird:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10: 29-31).

A sparrow was one of the cheapest commodities in Israel, selling at something like two for a penny. Sparrows were plentiful, small, and considered of little significance in the grand scheme of the universe. Surely the great Creator of all things, the One who flung the stars into place and holds all things together by His mighty power, the great God who raises up nations and brings them down at His pleasure, must pay little attention to a common sparrow!

Yet Jesus would say, “Not true!” His literal words are, “Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” Even in the death of a sparrow our Heavenly Father is intimately aware and totally involved. When we see a small dead bird on the lawn we have no idea how he died. Was it a bird version of a heart attack? Did his little lungs give out? Or do birds get cancer? Why did he die there and not one block later on? Did he die in mid-flight, or land and then die? We do not know.

And yet the Heavenly Father not only knows the answers to these questions but was somehow involved in the details of the little bird’s death as well as his life. Apart from God’s will no bird lives or dies.

What is the point? Jesus tells us: “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Once again we find our Lord insisting that we have great value in the eyes of this beneficent Heavenly Father who created us all. One of Satan’s biggest lies is when he comes to us in our struggles and suggests God does not notice you. He hardly knows you exist. Jesus’ teaching on sparrows flatly contradicts such a notion. Even our simplest problems, be it a cold or the inability to pay our electric bill, does not go unnoticed by our Father, nor is He lacking in concern and the willingness to help us.

Do Not Worry

When I taught school we used to give the children worksheets which asked them to find the main idea of a paragraph. It amazed me how difficult many of them found this to be. But we could hardly miss Jesus’ main idea in these illustrations as He gives it again and again: “Do not worry. Do not fear. Your Father in heaven will take good care of you. Put His priorities first and trust Him for your material needs.”

These words of Jesus must be taken literally and not simply written off as poetic exaggeration. Though we cannot see Him, we have it on good authority that there really is a Heavenly Father, He really does care about His creation, and we really can live our lives without fear and worry.

Because it is God’s nature to provide, He has provided for our spiritual needs as well as our physical needs. And that spiritual provision is far more important than new shirts and shoes, or potatoes and salads. God has provided for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation with Him through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. Our greatest need is the gift of righteousness that Jesus imparts to us when we put our faith in Him. Clothes will wear out, food will rot, but the gift of righteousness Christ provides is eternal. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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